In an era of turmoil and tension, while battling a global pandemic and a myriad of social issues, it’s disturbingly ironic that our policymakers are more inclined towards fattening military budgets rather than prioritizing public needs. This disheartening reality was again underlined last week when the Senate greenlit the colossal National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) while shunning Sen. Bernie Sanders’ noble proposition for a 10% trim in military spending.
Out of 100, only 11 of our Senators were daring enough to defy the popular tide and vote against the mammoth NDAA. This bill authorizes a mind-boggling $886 billion for military expenditure in the upcoming fiscal year, including a hefty chunk earmarked for the Pentagon and the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons schemes.
To add some perspective, the Congressional Budget Office anticipates U.S. nuclear forces gobbling up $756 billion over the coming decade, averaging $75 billion a year. Meanwhile, the student debt cancellation initiative (tragically struck down by the Supreme Court last month) would have cost merely $30 billion annually for a decade. It’s evident where our lawmakers are placing their bets, and it’s not on America’s future generations.
Sanders’ proposition, dismissed with an 11-88 vote, aimed to trim down the NDAA funding by $88.6 billion. In a heartfelt speech, Sanders criticized the routine pumping of billions into the military-industrial machine while blatantly neglecting sectors like healthcare, education, housing, and the intensifying climate crisis.
Decrying the massive wastage and fraud rife within the Pentagon, Sanders observed how the U.S. military expenditure now outstrips the next ten countries combined. According to Sanders, a 10% cut in military spending is an initial step toward redefining our national priorities.
Sen. Ed Markey was another rare voice standing with Sanders, protesting the Senate’s decision to furnish the Pentagon with an unnecessary, extravagant spending package. Markey rebuked the hypocrisy of the Republicans, who, on the one hand, incessantly preach about cutting down government spending on essential services, but, on the other hand, spare no expense in pampering their defense contractor allies.
Our representatives now have to align their respective versions of the NDAA, with the House’s rendition being steeped in conservative amendments aiming to curb abortion access and gender-affirming care for servicemembers. However, the mutual thread tying both bills is the exorbitant $886 billion cap, a figure that conveniently aligns with President Joe Biden’s request for the fiscal year 2024 and signifies a $28 billion surge compared to the current fiscal year’s military spending.
As critics warn of a potential Pentagon “slush fund,” the Senate bill carries nonbinding language suggesting that the $886 billion defense spending limit isn’t sufficient. It also calls on Biden to ask for emergency supplemental funding for various items, including support for Ukraine.
In the aftermath of the vote, Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, eloquently questioned why, despite being told of insufficient funds for daycare, universal pre-K, housing the homeless, providing hearing aids for seniors, and tackling the climate crisis, there’s always money to bankroll the Pentagon. Redirecting even 10% of the military budget for healthcare, education, climate action, and other pressing priorities could be a game-changer, but alas, the powers that be seem to be more interested in war games.